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Q. Is high-fructose corn syrup bad for you?

By Joyce Hendley, September/October 2007

Is high-fructose corn syrup bad for you?

A. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a manmade sweetener that’s found in a wide range of processed foods, from ketchup and cereals to crackers and salad dressings. It also sweetens just about all of the (regular) soda Americans drink. HFCS used in foods is between 50 to 55 percent fructose—so chemically, it’s virtually identical to table sugar (sucrose), which is 50 percent fructose. Metabolic studies suggest our bodies break down and use HFCS and sucrose the same way.

Yet, after HFCS began to be widely introduced into the food supply 30-odd years ago, obesity rates skyrocketed. And because the sweetener is so ubiquitous, many blame HFCS for playing a major role in our national obesity epidemic. As a result, some shoppers equate HFCS with “toxic waste” when they see it on a food label. But when it comes right down to it, a sugar is a sugar is a sugar. A can of soda contains around nine teaspoons of sugar in the form of HFCS—but, from a biochemical standpoint, drinking that soda is no worse for you than sipping home-brewed iced tea that you’ve doctored with nine teaspoons of table sugar or an equivalent amount of honey.

Even Barry Popkin, Ph.D., a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who previously suggested, in an influential 2004 paper, a possible HFCS-obesity link, stresses that the real obesity problem doesn’t lie just with HFCS. Rather, it’s the fact that sugars from all sources have become so prevalent in our food supply, especially in our beverages. He scoffs at the “natural” sweeteners sometimes added to upscale processed foods like organic crackers and salad dressings. “They all have the same caloric effects as sugar,” he explains. “I don’t care whether something contains concentrated fruit juice, brown sugar, honey or HFCS. The only better sweetener option is ‘none of the above.’”

At EatingWell, it’s our philosophy to keep any sweeteners we use in our recipes to a minimum—and likewise, to limit processed foods with added sugars of any type, including HFCS. We recommend you do the same.

Did you know?

The corn syrup found on supermarket shelves is only a distant cousin to the high-fructose corn syrup used commercially. Both start by processing corn starch with enzymes and/or acids, but the HFCS process is much more complex and results in a different chemical structure.

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COMMENTS POSTEDsort icon

In my class we watched a movie call King Corn! some of you should watch it!

Anonymous

05/23/2012 - 2:15pm

Science is a great tool to support any argument. Historically science is not always correct; it is a work in progress. Some people in the science community thought the world was flat. Let us say we have no scientific knowledge at all. If sugar is sugar, then why not use sugar. Who puts 9 teaspoons of sugar in their ice tea? 9 teaspoons of sugar in a soda! All of the positive science in support for HFCS is generated by the corn industry. This is a conflict of interest and should be dismissed as simple marketing and not good science. Their fighting for their billions and were fighting for our health. This is your choice not theirs. If you read carefully, you may see the underlying problem. Let us suppose the corn industry is 100% correct in their scientific evaluation. The HFCS is in everything, hot dog buns and ketchup! We are overdosing on HFCS/sugar. It’s very simple folks, avoid HFCS and limit your sugar intake. Why should my hot dog bun have HFCS? Just a personal note: Things taste much better without HFCS. I have no HFCS in my house.

Anonymous

05/23/2012 - 11:27am

After reading this article and the comments afterwards, I still feel as though I'm uneducated. I always heard that HFCS was bad and I'm doing just fine by eliminating it from my food.

Anonymous

05/20/2012 - 3:33pm

Doctors aren't God, doctors lie, they are motivated by making many, and the drug companies, make more money by keeping you alive and selling you their prescription drugs. If they ever cured anything, they would lose business, so if you suffer longer and keep treating symptoms with their "legal drugs" they make more money, they chose greed over human life and quality of life, the doctors that deny this are eithr liars, or so stupid or in denial, that they shouldn't be doctors in the first place. If they want to do honest work, doctors and the legal drug pushers should get jobs as wal mart greeters but not as walmart associates. Associates are about as stupid as tsa agents. --- Jerry Rivers

Anonymous

05/18/2012 - 6:25pm

a recent study with HFCS and rats shows that rats fed HFCS became stupider at negotiating a maze... just what the U$ government wants - a fat, stupid populace who will believe all their lies...

Anonymous

05/17/2012 - 11:21pm

who ever said yummy I hope you were being sarcastic!?

Anonymous

05/17/2012 - 11:37am

What has not been mentioned here is that when HFCS is consumed, the calories consumed are not recognized by your body. That HAS BEEN PROVEN. It is put in foods so that people will just keep eating it without getting full. I get so angry when I see these commercials about it being no different than real sugar. It is seriously misleading. Of course it is not as good for you as NATURAL sweeteners like REAL sugar or honey. It is so cheap though and in EVERYTHING now that it is insane. I try to only buy things that don't have HFCS but it is very difficult to do which is just not right. I would prefer to pay more for quality food and I do. I don't really drink soda because I think it is terrible for you but when I do, I only drink the Pepsi that is made with real sugar (the original formula) when it is available.

Anonymous

05/13/2012 - 6:30pm

Agreed people should stop blaming HFCS for obesity, soda is a load of empty calories people that say that this need to be looked into is silly these are nutrition experts and doctors with published papers I think they know what they are talking about also HTCS is made from cOrn and according to the food department is natural, people don't be miss informed

Anonymous

05/04/2012 - 1:46am

This article is not true.
HFCS IS bad for you. The reason why is that even though it is a sugar, your body does not digest it the same as real sugar. It has to do with the way our bodies digest HFCS. It goes through the liver and is immediately converted to fat. As we all know, sugar is the first substance to burn off while exercising. True fat burn comes after about 15 mins of strenuous exercise. But because of the chemical composition of HFCS, our bodies must work harder to burn off the excess fat caused by its consumption.

Anonymous

04/29/2012 - 1:38pm

If you didn't lose weight by cutting out soft drinks... you probably weren't drinking any to began with. I stopped drinking american soda and started drinking mexico soda, which is made with real sugar by the way, and I have lost weight. I think there is something about the fructose sugar.... More research is needed than what this add is putting out.

Anonymous

04/21/2012 - 7:34pm

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